• 2020

  • Houston is less affordable than New York City

  • Houston, infamous for it’s Viet-Cajun cuisine, the Johnson Space Center, the old Astrodome, and notably its sprawling highways and blacktops. For those who have never visited Houston, the marshes of Texas’ coasts can be unforgiving. The prairie regions surrounding the port of Houston had to be transformed to solidify its foothold as the energy export capital of Texas. City planners replaced natural creek-beds, prairie lands, and marshy ditches with concrete culverts and drain-ways — sealing Houston’s fate as a flood-prone metropolitan city forever.

    Apart from the occasional hurricane, and the muggy summers, the cost of living in Houston used to be relatively inexpensive — at least until recent decades. The rising economic cost of flood damages, growing gridlock, gasoline prices, and maintaining a car during the era of tumultuous climate change has made it difficult for the middle class to thrive. In fact, it’s much worse than we thought.

    According to reporting from Texas Monthly, Houston’s affordability has dried up along with its protective prairie lands:

    Furthermore, when considering housing and transportation costs as a percentage of income, Houston (and Dallas–Fort Worth, for that matter) appear significantly less affordable than cities with much more expensive housing, including New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and Boston. The annual median household income in Houston was just under $61,000 in 2016, while in New York that same figure was just over $69,000. As a result, Houstonians spend just under 50 percent of their income on those combined costs, whereas New Yorkers spend just over 45 percent.

    It may be a cheaper opportunity cost to move and to live in Houston. For example, buying a house in a Houston suburb is vastly cheaper than buying a home just about anywhere outside the Tri-State area in New York. But, transportation and environmental costs continue to mount in Houston.

    Until Texas Central builds a high-speed rail line between Houston and Dallas, I’m afraid that all Texas metropolitan areas will face the same fate. Cars and highways don’t scale well when the vast majority of city residents live in suburbia.

  • 2019

  • Curbed Marfa Travel Guide

  • Executive Editor at Vox, Mercedes Kraus, penned a travel guide for would-be visitors to Marfa. Marfa is located in West Texas. Heck, even the Simpsons visited Prada Marfa:

    The Simpsons, S30E11: “Mad about the toy”

    Texas, is well known for many things. A couple of venerable and memorable characters from Texas’s past include Sam Houston and Lyndon B. Johnson. A few of my personal favorite things about Texas: the tall skies, grassy hills, semi-arid desert landscapes, swell thunderstorms, quiet dive bars, and loud honky-tonks. It’s easy to forget that Texas has a substantial art culture in Marfa. But, its there damnit! It has frequently been overshadowed by larger-than-life subjects such as Austin’s tech boom, and of course Texas oil booms.

    You can read the entire travel guide here at Curbed. But, I loved this pro-tip on arting and getting to know locals in Marfa:

    For art: Don’t let anyone tell you to skip Chinati. I recommend either the full tour ($25) or all three self-guided tours ($30). The self-guided are “the sheds” (where I experienced a visual symphony), the Dan Flavin buildings (for your Instagram fulfillment), and the new Robert Irwin—an artwork and experience that is in fact an entire building. The thing that I think you, a fan of this newsletter, would really miss if you don’t do the full tour is the arena. If you are unable to take the Judd Foundation tour (see above), you must do the full Chinati tour so that you can experience the arena. (Pro tip: get to know your docent—locals in Marfa are super friendly, will give you great tips, and might even invite you to a local party or happening.)

    For context, The Chinati Foundation was founded based on Donald Judd’s ideas and principles. Honorary Texan, Donald Judd is essentially Marfa’s Patron Saint of Art. For good reason too. If not for him, Marfa would look a helluva lot different.

    Mercedes is on-point about getting to know your locals too. Don’t be shy. Texas’s state motto is, after all simply, friendship. You might just make a friend. Having a Texan in your contact book is like personally knowing a hobbit. Cherished, magical and kind.

  • Can Bee Venom Treat Lyme Disease?

  • Katy Vine for Texas Monthly writes:

    Perhaps, instead of destroying the bacteria directly, the venom’s effect is indirect, kick-starting the immune system. Bee venom studies have shown promise in combating symptoms for autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. According to Justin Schmidt, an insect venom expert at the Southwestern Biological Institute, in Tucson, it’s possible that when the immune system begins attacking itself, an injection of bee venom may help by providing an alternate target—“something to chew on,” he said, “and this tends to regulate the immune system so it does what it’s supposed to be doing, which is attack toxins that are getting into your body.” While Lyme is a bacterial infection, it sometimes mimics autoimmune disorders, and so maybe, somehow, similar rules apply.

    It’s also possible that the pain of the stings plays a role. “Maybe the venom is doing something to kick off pain receptors,” he said. Anecdotal evidence suggests that other types of venom may also work this way. A brief article in the Lancet, from 1983, described a 43-year-old woman in Arizona who had MS and went into remission for two months following a scorpion sting on her right foot. An immunologist in Houston told me she was contacted by a physician experiencing progressive MS who said he’d been stung by a sea anemone and went into temporary remission.

    This piece from Texas Monthly was mind-blowing. For one I had no idea that bee venom had a use for treating Lyme disease. The viability of the treatment is still unknown. The entire ritual of using bee-stingers has an Eastern-medicine quality to it (never mind the fact it kills our precious bee friends in the process). But, whatever works for treating the pain of Lyme is a win in my book. Even if it is a placebo, pain management is hard.

  • Texas: The Big State

  • I have a deep love for The Lone Star State. Every inch of Texas feels like home to me. I was born in Texas, and I would prefer to be buried there.

    It’s a place that is seemingly boundless in resources, kindness and wholesome kinships (for those unaware, the state motto is simply, friendship). I advise everyone to take a road trip sometime through the heartland of Texas via its highway arteries: I-35, I-30, I-20, I-45 and I-10 and befriend some Texans in far-away places. There are so many treasures that dot the landscape in pretty much any direction. Buc-ee’s, Whataburgers, kolaches, and breweries and all! Texas has thick forests, wide canyons, rocky mountains, wild rivers, deserts, beaches, thousands of gigantic lakes, farms, big cities, sleepy towns, historic sites and BBQ like you wouldn’t believe.

    Texas also has a history unlike any other state in the union. One might say that turmoil, drama, oil, entertainment and entrepreneurship are the tenets of Texan culture. Speaking of entertainment — enter Dallas SMU’s G. William Jones Film & Video Collection. It has a remarkable video/film archive. Within its vast collection are film prints, tapes, reels, and television tapes. The archive was originally known as the Southwest Film/Video Archives, but was later renamed after its founder Dr. William Jones. Yesterday, they posted a new video, highlighting Texas treasures and culture from 1952:

    This film in particular is interesting. It was produced by The Dudley Pictures Corporation. The motion picture company takes its name from the esteemed and legendary travelogue producer, Carl Dudley. The company completed a number of remarkable and charming travelogues which have been compiled into a handy YouTube playlist here. The playlist description reads:

    Carl Dudley was best known for his 1958 production of Cinerama’s South Seas Adventure, but throughout his career produced more than 300 “travel adventures” as he preferred to call travelogues. Dudley was born in 1910 in Little Rock, Arkansas aboard his father’s Ward & Wade Minstrels Show train. In 1935, inspired by seeing the film Mutiny on the Bounty, he traveled to Tahiti, Australia and India, supporting himself by working on film crews. He landed back in Hollywood in the late 1930’s and worked briefly as a screenwriter. In 1944 he started Dudley Pictures Corp which produced the series This World of Ours and This Land of Ours for theatrical and educational distribution. He died of a heart attack in Hong Kong on September 2, 1973.

    Without further distractions, here’s Texas: The Big State (skip to 13:18 for Fort Worth and TCU)

  • A Forgotten Ben Enwonwu Painting Resurfaces in a Texas Attic

  • Ciku Kimeria for Quartz writes:

    Imagine finding an almost-forgotten portrait of your mother in your family house, doing a Google search on the artist’s name and discovering that what you own is a precursor to the artist’s best-known work that sold in 2018 for $1.6 million.
    This is exactly what happened very recently to one of the members of the Davis family in Texas.

    The portrait, Christine, is the latest remarkable find of work by one of the most revered African artists of the 20th century, Ben Enwonwu. The captivating sitter is Christine Elizabeth Davis, an American hair stylist of West Indian descent.

    Christine travelled a lot in her life, working in Ghana before moving to Lagos with her British husband in 1969. There, they befriended Enwonwu and Christine’s husband commissioned the work as a gift for his wife in 1971 before they eventually moved back to the US a few years later.

    What a remarkable discovery!

    I love tales of once-lost-paintings resurfacing. It’s pretty rare for these things to happen, and oddly enough this is the second time Enwonwu’s work has been re-discovered this way.

    For the uninitiated, Ben Enwonwu was a Nigerian sculptor and painter — he’s a notable artist who’s probably most known for his contributions to African modernity in Art History. He created incredible public works, has an impressive array of paintings, and was a celebrated artist not only by the Royal Society of British Artists, but around the globe.

    As the Quartz article points out, the portrait, is of Christine Elizabeth Davis. She moved to Lagos in 1969 and befriended Enwonwu. Later, during the 1975 military coup, the Davis family left Lagos, Nigeria and moved to the States and settled in Texas. The painting had been in the family’s possession since its last exhibition in 1978.

  • Ross Perot Has Died

  • From The New York Times:

    He began working at 7, selling garden seeds door to door and later breaking horses (and his nose) for his father at a dollar a head. When he was 12, he began delivering The Texarkana Gazette on horseback in poor neighborhoods, soliciting subscriptions and building his route from scratch for extra commissions. He did so well his boss tried to cut his commissions, but he backed off when the boy went to the publisher.

    He changed his name to Henry Ross Perot in honor of a brother, Gabriel Ross Perot Jr., who had died, just a toddler, in 1927. The family pronounced the surname PEE-roe, but in his 20s he changed that, too, making it puh-ROE because, he said, he got tired of correcting people. He called himself Ross; the media years later added the initial “H” at the beginning of his name, but he never liked it.

    In his lifetime, he worked at IBM, served in the Navy as a Lieutenant, founded two computer-data companies (one of which powered paperwork for Medicaid and Medicare), and donated millions to schools, hospitals, scientific research and the arts. He was a self-made billionaire Texan who didn’t make his fortunes on oil and that is a remarkable achievement. A venerable businessman, and later became something of a pseudo-Republican (having run for president under the Reform Party).

    Eagles don’t flock, you have to find them one at a time.

    In a sense, Ross Perot set the mold for many post-oil Texan entrepreneurs. His legacy of philanthropy continued with his children, and later led to the founding of the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, my previous employer. While I disagreed with his personal politics, I retain a great deal of respect for the Perot family. Like many Texans I admire, he was really one of a kind.

    You can read more about his life and legacy here.

  • Every Matthew McConaughey “Alright” In Chronological Order

  • Nuff said.

  • The Unites States of GDP

  • From G Zero Media:

    If the state of California were an independent country, it would have the fifth largest economy in the world, according to a fascinating report by The Economist that looks at both that state and Texas as the harbingers of two alternative futures for the United States. That got us thinking – how do the economies of the individual US states stack up against other countries? California’s economy is about the size of the United Kingdom’s, while Texas’s matches up with Canada’s. Who’s on par with Sri Lanka or the Czech Republic? Our map’s got ’em all.

  • The Dobson Family Sells Controlling Stake in Whataburger

  • Whatastory. Now, I’m a born-and-bred Texan. I may live in New York City (for now), so the Empire State may have my taxes — but the Lone Star State has my heart. Always has, always will. Despite the troubling past and problematic heroes (and if you have the stamina to stand up to Republicans occasionally), Texas can be a fantastic, magical and oh-so affordable place to call home. So pardon me swimming through some backstory here, while I work up to the big reveal.

    To quote the great Lawerence Wright:

    […] Texans see themselves as a distillation of the best qualities of America: friendly, confident, hardworking, patriotic, neurosis-free. Outsiders see us as the nation’s id, a place where rambunctious and disavowed impulses run wild. Texans, it is thought, mindlessly celebrate individualism, and view government as a kind of kryptonite that weakens the entrepreneurial muscles. We’re reputed to be braggarts; careless with money and our personal lives; a little gullible, but dangerous if crossed; insecure, but obsessed with power and prestige.

    Power and prestige indeed — Fast-food restaurateurs frequently come to Texas to wade in the tepid waters of the nation’s id if you will. Open a shop in Texas, and it does well — chances are, you will do well just about anywhere.

    Texas has it all. From Five Guys to Fuzzy’s. We have Del Tacos (god knows why), food trucks, and oh so many Chipotle’s. Texas has In-n-Out’s and then there’s the Braums, Kincaids and Juicy’s. Not to mention a constant fierce rivalry between Shake Shack and our hero, Whataburger. And boy-howdy, lemme tell ya about the Jalapeño Tree and Bernie. The highway culture in Texas is a fertile breeding ground for all sorts of varying opinions on fast food. From Uvalde to Amarillo, every Texan has a contrarian favorite. But every true Texan can probably agree, Whataburger is a prized possession. Seriously. Couples may get married at McDonald’s locations in Hong Kong, but you can be damn sure Texans get married at Whataburger:

    Whataburger fans have had Whataburgers sent to them out-of-state via Federal Express, twenty-four couples were married at a Whataburger restaurant on Valentine’s Day in 1996, and in 1999 the STS-93 crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia requested Whataburger cookies on board for their July mission. The Seventy-seventh Texas Legislature officially recognized what customers have known for more than 50 years: Whataburger is a state treasure. On April 9, 2001, Rep. Jaime Capelo, (D-Corpus Christi), announced his resolution to recognize the Texas-based hamburger chain as a Texas Treasure.

    Whataburger has been in business for nearly 69 years now since the first location opened up in Corpus Christie (nice)! But there’s big news on the horizon for every Whataburger enthusiast — our Texan treasure, is now poised for growth now that the Dobson family has handed over the keys to Byron Trott:

    The merchant bank [BDT Capital Partners] that’s taking over the majority stake in Whataburger was founded by one of Warren Buffett’s favorite investors.

    The founding Dobson family will keep a minority position on the board, while Whataburger’s Chief Financial Officer Ed Nelson will become president of the orange-and-white burger chain. The company’s headquarters will remain in San Antonio.

    Not much is known about BDT Capital Partners. Despite dealing with billions of dollars, the company doesn’t have a website and rarely makes headlines.

    However, the company continues to grow under its founder, Byron Trott, who has been publicly praised by Warren Buffett in the past.

    Sign me the hell up. This is fantastic news for Whataburger. They’ve outgrown their spurs, many times over, and I have confidence that Trott and BDT Capital will take good care of Whataburger. I would love to see a Whataburger location open up in Brooklyn or Manhattan in my lifetime. That would be just so glorious.

    If you want to learn more about the history of Whatburger, The Texas State Historical Association has some incredible photographs (that couldn’t be shared here) and a lovely summary Whataburger’s history written by an excellent history teacher — Cindy Jones, of Woodrow Wilson Junior High in Dayton, Texas. I only know this because the THSA publishes a list of their junior historians here, which is super cool 😎

  • An Improved and Definitive Texas City Emoji Guide

  • Growing up in Fort Worth, having lived in Denton, Dallas and Arlington, having visited (frequently all the cities within DFW and) Houston, Galveston, Corpus Christie, Padre Island, Brownsville, Austin, Bee Cave, Grandbury, Stephenville, Plano, Amarillo, Wichita Falls, San Marcos, Tyler, Weatherford, Longview, Waco and (of course) Texarkansas — each city sets itself apart from the rest. The sum of its parts, is what makes Texas such a great state.

    I’ve never known another state to have such a vast, rivalrous, chivalrous, friendly but at times fiendish mythology of the neighboring cities within itself. Perhaps, I’ve never really known another state like Texas. Or maybe, I’ve never really looked hard enough, because — well… I’m from Texas.

    Anyways, without further ado, enjoy the emoji Texan-take tweets from Bobby Blanchard (@bobbycblanchard) of The Texas Tribune:

    God I love it, all of it. My only critique is that Denton’s emoji should be a Saxophone although an Eagle is fitting 🙂

  • 2018

  • Links: April 2018

  • Time for another roundup of links:

    Don’t Fix Facebook. Replace It.

    It turns out that the data leak from Cambridge Analytica isn’t 5 million, it isn’t 87 million, but affects a whopping 2 billion users. Major bummer. This quote about sums up how I feel about it:

    What the journalist Walter Lippmann said in 1959 of “free” TV is also true of “free” social media: It is ultimately “the creature, the servant and indeed the prostitute of merchandizing.” But social media itself isn’t going away. It has worked its way into our lives and has come to help satistify the basic human need to connect and catch up. Facebook, in fact, claims lofty goals, saying it seeks to “bring us closer together” and “build a global community.” Those are indeed noble purposes that social media can serve. But if they were Facebook’s true goals, we would not be here.

    Advertising makes the world go round. No doubt about it. But let’s not beat around the bush, Facebook makes money. Connecting people is secondary to their primary goal — leveraging user data for advertisers.

    A Better Way to Put Words on Paper, IBM Selectric Ad

    A classic. You just don’t see ads like this anymore. It’s beautiful. Reminds me of the early Macintosh ads.

    IBM Plex C-Handle Mug 11oz

    Another IBM related link. In celebration of IBM’s new typeface, Plex they made this super cool mug. 10/10, would buy.

    Wesleyan Tetris

    This is a fun one. From Macintosh Garden:

    A Mac-exclusive bid to create the most vexing Tetris possible. It will lie, cheat, taunt you about your play (“Nice slide!”), give you preposterously unusable pieces, and find a creative “new way to screw you” on every level. While it never saw its intended commercial publication, a leaked development copy became an underground sensation.

    This version only refers to itself as Tetris by Randall Cook, but it picked up many other names as it spread: New Tetris, Obnoxious Tetris, Attitude Problem Tetris, Wise-Ass Tetris, Asshole Tetris and most famously Wesleyan Tetrisafter the author’s university. Recently, Cook announced plans to release the source code under the name Original Supertris.

    Scarfolk Council

    I discovered this one from Josh and Chuck at Stuff You Should Know. They’re a goofy bunch and easily my favorite podcast. Scarfolk is a misinformation-satire, specifically occupying the graphic design aesthetic of 1970’s PSA campaigns. From the Scarfolk masthead:

    Scarfolk is a town in North West England that did not progress beyond 1979. Instead, the entire decade of the 1970s loops ad infinitum. Here in Scarfolk, pagan rituals blend seamlessly with science; hauntology is a compulsory subject at school, and everyone must be in bed by 8pm because they are perpetually running a slight fever. “Visit Scarfolk today. Our number one priority is keeping rabies at bay.” For more information please reread.

    You can watch the SYSK’s Internet Roundup episode here. The origins and inspirations of Scarfolk starts at around 7:30. Good stuff.

    The 1Password 7 Beta for Mac Is Lit and You Can Be, Too

    It’s here! Finally. The 1Password 7 Beta is out for macOS users. I’ve played around with it for a week now and it’s pretty nice. Very refreshing UI update. 

    More Sinkholes for West Texas?

    From Texas Monthly:

    A new study from two SMU scientists finds that oil and gas activity has made the ground unstable over a 4,000-square-mile swath of West Texas.

    Growing up in Texas, I can tell you — earthquakes are not common at all. Most of Texas sits upon several massive shale structures. As this oil and gas activity continues, there could be dire consequences.

    From the EIA

    SMU geophysics and researcher Jin-Woo Kim later says:

    If these shifts continue, they could lead to increased seismic activity in the area as well as the formation of new sinkholes, which would pose a danger to “residents, roads, railroads, levees, dams, and oil and gas pipelines,” according to Lu. Pipelines in particular are vulnerable to these shifts, and there are many of them in the area. “West Texas has one of the densest networks of oil and gas pipelines in the U.S.,” the scientists noted. Ground water could also be polluted as a result.

    Gothamist is Back!

    Hooray! WAMU gets DCist, and KPCC gets LAist! A great victory for the web and journalism. There’s a Kickstarter to help raise cash for WNYC + Gothamist. Fuck yeah.

    The Key Wrangler from CW&T

    From CW&T

    I came across CW&T (Che-Wei Wang & Taylor Levy) after HAWRAF (a design and tech studio in Flatiron) shared the photo on Instagram. CW&T is maker studio, seemingly focusing on solving unique problems at the intersection of art and design. The Key Wrangler is a rugged, solid piece of CNC’d titanium (or brass). At it’s core, it’s a carabiner designed for urban use. I love the passion and grit CW&T puts into their work.

    They’ve also done some cool projects in the past too. Such as this rad music project, 365 Days of OP-1. Very impressive. I don’t think I’ve ever done anything 365 days in a row except for maybe eating. 😬